Beth Michelle Semel

Pronouns
she, her, hers
Position
Assistant Professor
Degrees

Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bio/Description

Interests:

Linguistic anthropology; anthropology of science, technology and medicine; feminist science and technology studies; disability studies; listening; voice; information and communication technologies; artificial intelligence; mental health care; surveillance; carcerality; United States

Short bio:

As an ethnographer of science, technology, and language, I explore how small choices in the everyday work of building algorithmic systems can portend massive sociopolitical consequences. My research investigates the ways that technologies designed to screen, sort, and evaluate people based on the sounds of their voice are impacting clinical and surveillance practices in the U.S., as well as the configurations of gender, race, and disability wrapped up in these regimes of health and security.

My current book project focuses on initiatives to radically transform how people who interface with the U.S. mental health care system are listened to using automated voice analysis technologies. Dominant discourses surrounding these efforts frame artificial intelligence (AI) as key to unlocking a more efficient, objective, and equitable future for psychiatric medicine. My ethnography complicates these narratives, mapping out the marginalized communicative interactions, sensory practices, and hierarchies of labor and value that both structure and disrupt the making of algorithmic listening.

My second project explores the past and present life of voice-based lie-detection, or voice stress analysis (VSA), a policing and interrogation tool developed as a contactless alternative to the polygraph. Combining archival and ethnographic research, I retell the genealogy of VSA as a carceral pre-history of computational clinical listening. In tandem, I track activist and hacker-led initiatives to combat VSA and other forms of voice surveillance.

Prior to arriving at Princeton, I was a postdoctoral associate in Anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I co-founded and served as the associate director of the Language and Technology Lab.